8 normalized family dynamics that are actually highly toxic, according to psychology

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There’s a stark contrast between what we perceive as ‘normal’ family dynamics and what could actually be toxic behaviors lurking beneath the surface.

Often, these toxic dynamics are so normalized that we don’t even realize how detrimental they can be to our mental well-being. 

Psychology points us to certain behaviors that we may have normalized but are, in fact, quite toxic. Trust me, recognizing them is the first step towards creating healthier relationships.

In this article, I’m going to share with you 8 such normalized family dynamics that are quite toxic.

My aim is not to alarm you but to empower you with knowledge for your journey towards healthier relationships.

This is Jeanette Brown, and I’m here to guide you through these murky waters. Let’s dive in.

1) Brushing off disrespectful behavior

We’ve all been there.

You’re at a family gathering, and your cousin makes a snide comment about your career choice. Or maybe your parent casually dismisses your feelings on a particular matter. The room laughs it off. It’s just ‘banter’, right?


This is a classic example of normalized disrespect that’s highly toxic.

It’s easy to overlook this as harmless ‘family humor’, but constant belittlement or dismissal can lead to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and cause emotional distress.

It’s important to stand up against such behavior, even if it seems normalized within the family dynamics. Everyone deserves respect, and it starts with you acknowledging and calling out this toxic dynamic.

Embracing change may seem daunting, but it’s the first step towards reshaping your interactions and navigating your way to a more fulfilling life.

Don’t be afraid to reset your life compass and set sail towards healthier relationships. It is not just about surviving but thriving in an environment that respects your individuality and values your opinions.

2) Ignoring personal boundaries

We’ve seen it in movies and read about it in books, and unfortunately, many of us have experienced it firsthand – personal boundaries being casually crossed by family members.

This could be your sibling going through your stuff without asking or your parents making decisions for you without your input.

This disregard for personal boundaries is more than just an invasion of privacy; it’s a toxic family dynamic.

As someone who has worked with countless individuals navigating through these challenging dynamics, I can tell you that understanding and respecting personal boundaries is integral to healthy relationships.

In the wise words of renowned author and speaker, Brene Brown, “Understanding ourselves and our values gives us the courage to set boundaries.”

If you’re struggling with identifying your core values, I’ve created a simple yet powerful exercise that can help. Check out my Defining Your Values Exercise. It’s designed to assist you in recognizing what truly matters to you, thereby enabling you to set firm boundaries that align with your core values.

It’s your life. You have the right to control who has access to you and how they can interact with you. Don’t be afraid to redefine these boundaries within your family. It might be uncomfortable at first, but trust me, it’s worth it.

3) Discouraging individuality and personal goals

There’s something deeply unsettling about having your dreams and aspirations belittled or dismissed by those who should be your biggest cheerleaders – your family.

You may have experienced this yourself. You share a goal or a dream with your family, only to be met with discouragement or even ridicule. Instead of fostering a sense of individuality, these interactions instill fear and self-doubt.

This is a toxic dynamic, and it’s far more common than you might think.

Just because your goals don’t align with the ‘family narrative’ doesn’t mean they’re invalid or unachievable. It just means they’re different, and that’s perfectly okay.

It’s your life, and the goals you set should be meaningful to you, not tailored to meet someone else’s expectations. Stay true to yourself and chase after those dreams with all you’ve got. Your future self will thank you for it.

4) Imposing guilt and obligation

It’s an uncomfortable truth to face, but sometimes the people we love can use our feelings of obligation and guilt to manipulate us.

You may have heard phrases like “After all we’ve done for you” or “You owe us this much”. These words are often used as a tool to control decisions that ultimately steer the direction of your life.

It’s important to understand that no matter what you’ve been told, you don’t owe anyone the reins of your life. Your choices, your path, and your future – these are for you to decide.

Don’t let guilt or a sense of obligation dictate the course of your life. It’s okay to prioritize your happiness and peace. You don’t need anyone’s permission to pursue a life that feels authentic to you.

Stand firm in your decisions and trust yourself. You have the power to navigate the direction of your life. Don’t be afraid to seize it!

5) Communication without empathy

We’ve all had conversations where we felt unheard or misunderstood. Unfortunately, this often happens within our families.

Communication without empathy is very stressful and toxic.

It’s when your feelings are dismissed, your perspective is not considered, and the conversation becomes a one-way street. This lack of empathy can lead to feelings of isolation and invalidate your emotions.

Acknowledging this dynamic is the first step towards change. The next step? Practicing empathetic communication yourself and encouraging others to do the same.

You might be wondering how to start. One effective method I recommend is journaling. It helps you understand your feelings better, which in turn aids in expressing them more effectively.

If you’re ready to take a deeper dive into transforming your life, consider my course, Reset Your Life Compass. Here, we explore various tools and delve into practices like journaling that can guide you toward living a fulfilling life.

6) Normalizing unhealthy habits

Let’s face it, every family has its quirks. But when these quirks evolve into unhealthy habits and become part of the ‘family tradition,’ it’s time for a reality check.

Maybe it’s a culture of overworking, unhealthy eating habits, or excessive drinking. Whatever it is, these normalized habits can have serious implications on your physical and mental health.

It’s crucial to break free from these unhealthy cycles and cultivate habits that contribute positively to your well-being.

Change is often met with resistance, especially when it involves breaking away from long-standing family habits. But remember, successfully changing your habits is the key to living a better life.

Don’t be afraid to create new traditions that align with your healthy lifestyle choices.

It might be challenging initially, but as time goes by, you’ll start reaping the benefits of a healthier and happier life!

7) Suppressing authenticity and self-expression

In many families, there is an unspoken rule: “Don’t rock the boat”. This often translates into suppressing your true self to maintain peace or to comply with family expectations.

Whether it’s hiding your true passions or not expressing your opinions out of fear of judgment, these actions can slowly erode your sense of self-worth.

This is a toxic dynamic that breeds resentment and hinders personal growth. It’s essential to remember that your voice matters and your individuality should be celebrated, not suppressed.

As the acclaimed author and Holocaust survivor, Viktor E. Frankl once said, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”

Living an authentic life filled with meaning and purpose starts with embracing who you truly are, without the fear of judgement or rejection.

If you’re struggling with finding your purpose and expressing your true self, I’ve shared some insightful tips in this video: Tips for finding your purpose in life.

Life is too short to live up to someone else’s expectations. Be true to yourself, express yourself freely, and embrace the journey towards authenticity.

Your unique voice has the power to add untold richness to the world.

Don’t let it be silenced!

8) Valuing harmony over authenticity

On the surface, a family that always seems to be in perfect harmony sounds ideal. But here’s the counterintuitive truth – sometimes, this harmony comes at the cost of authenticity.

In such families, disagreements are often brushed under the carpet to maintain an image of unity. Members feel compelled to agree with the majority, even when their true feelings or opinions differ. This suppresses individuality and breeds resentment.

Living authentically means expressing your true thoughts and feelings, even if they go against the grain. It means standing up for what you believe in, even if it disrupts the perceived harmony.

Embrace your individuality, and don’t be afraid to voice your opinions. Real harmony comes from understanding and accepting differences, not from suppressing them.

It’s okay to disagree. It’s okay to be ‘different’. What’s not okay is to lose your authentic self in the pursuit of false harmony.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, it’s important to recognize that what we perceive as ‘normal’ in our family dynamics could be toxic behaviors that hinder our personal growth and happiness.

It’s not always easy to confront these dynamics, but remember, acknowledging them is the first step toward change.

Whether it’s about voicing your opinions, setting personal boundaries, or breaking free from unhealthy habits, you have the power to redefine these dynamics and live a more fulfilling life.

It’s your life. You hold the compass. Don’t be afraid to reset it and set sail towards the life you truly desire!

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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